Joe Palca

Joe Palca is a science correspondent for NPR. Since joining NPR in 1992, Palca has covered a range of science topics — everything from biomedical research to astronomy. He is currently focused on the eponymous series, "Joe's Big Idea." Stories in the series explore the minds and motivations of scientists and inventors.

Palca began his journalism career in television in 1982, working as a health producer for the CBS affiliate in Washington, DC. In 1986, he left television for a seven-year stint as a print journalist, first as the Washington news editor for Nature, and then as a senior correspondent forScience Magazine.

In October 2009, Palca took a six-month leave from NPR to become science writer in residence at the Huntington Library and The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Palca has won numerous awards, including the National Academies Communications Award, the Science-in-Society Award of the National Association of Science Writers, the American Chemical Society James T. Grady-James H. Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public, the American Association for the Advancement of Science Journalism Prize, and the Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Writing.

With Flora Lichtman, Palca is the co-author of Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us (Wiley, 2011).

He comes to journalism from a science background, having received a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of California at Santa Cruz where he worked on human sleep physiology.

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Shots - Health News
1:33 pm
Mon February 3, 2014

Inexpensive Aquarium Bubbler Saves Preemies' Lives

A nurse attaches the low-cost breathing machine (far left) to an infant at The Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi.
Jocelyn Brown Rice University

There's only one thing better than having a good idea, and that's having a good idea that really works.

Earlier this year, I reported on some students at Rice University who had designed a low-cost medical device to help premature infants breathe.

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Research News
4:04 am
Fri January 31, 2014

Scientists Come Close To Finding True Magnetic Monopole

Originally published on Mon June 30, 2014 9:55 am

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Scientists may have filled in a gap in one the fundamental theories of physics. We've always been told that magnets have two poles, north and south. But theory suggests there should be something called a magnetic monopole, a magnet that has either a north pole or a south pole but not both of them. So far no one has found this elusive magnetic monopole.

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Science
5:26 pm
Tue January 21, 2014

After Hibernation, Rosetta Seeks Its Stone

Originally published on Wed January 22, 2014 1:58 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The European Space Agency's Rosetta mission is back in business. For the past 31 months, the spacecraft has effectively been asleep. Most of its instruments were shut off to save energy, including the radio for communicating with Earth. Mission managers can now start preparing Rosetta for a rendezvous with a comet later this year. NPR's Joe Palca has more.

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Science
4:17 am
Wed January 15, 2014

Peter Stone Can't Get Enough Of Robots Playing Soccer

Originally published on Tue January 21, 2014 4:21 pm

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And later this year, billions of people around the world will become obsessed by sounds like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

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Shots - Health News
7:19 am
Sat January 4, 2014

Saving Babies' Lives Starts With Aquarium Pumps And Ingenuity

Neonatal nurse Florence Mwenifumbo monitors a newborn receiving bubble CPAP treatment in Blantyre, Malawi. The device was developed by students at Rice University in Houston.
Rice 360/Rice University

Originally published on Tue April 22, 2014 8:59 am

Good ideas don't only come from experts. An innovative engineering program in Texas has been proving that college undergraduates can tackle — and solve — vexing health challenges in developing countries.

Two engineers at Rice University in Houston are tapping the potential of bright young minds to change the world.

Big Problems, Simple Solutions

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Science
3:02 pm
Wed January 1, 2014

Researchers Create New 'Memory' Metals That Could Improve Safety

Some metal alloys will "remember" a shape when you heat them to the same temperature they were originally shaped at. So a straight wire made from one of these "shape memory alloys" might change back into a spring when heated, or vice versa. But the alloys that exist today change shape at low temperatures. Materials scientists at Sandia National Laboratory have developed new alloys that don't change shape until they reach hundreds of degrees, opening the door to thousands of new applications.

Technology
3:21 pm
Fri December 27, 2013

To Make Intersections Smarter, We Need Cars To Be Smarter, Too

Originally published on Fri December 27, 2013 6:15 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Car companies have already begun to design cars that can drive themselves. But to make these smart cars really useful, they'll also need smart roads. As part of his series, "Joe's Big Idea," NPR science correspondent Joe Palca has this story about some computer scientists who were designing a smart traffic intersection. How smart? Well, it can keep traffic flowing at least 10 times faster than old-fashioned intersections.

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Space
3:35 pm
Tue December 24, 2013

Space Station Gets Fixed In Christmas Eve Space Walk

Originally published on Tue December 24, 2013 7:02 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Flying above the Earth today other Christmas Eve mission, surfing the globe of thousands of miles an hour, were two astronauts. In a spacewalk today, they replaced a pump that is crucial for normal operations aboard the International Space Station.

NPR's Joe Palca has more.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: The pump circulates ammonia coolant around the station in one of two independent cooling systems. Having two systems is essential for removing the heat generated by all the station's electrical equipment.

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Science
1:55 pm
Fri November 29, 2013

Phantom Traffic Jams: What Causes Mysterious Highway Backups?

Originally published on Fri November 29, 2013 5:49 pm

Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

If you find yourself stuck in holiday traffic this weekend, our next story won't help you much, but it does bring hope for a less stressful future. A computer scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology thinks he's found a way to eliminate at least one kind of really annoying traffic jam. NPR's Joe Palca explains.

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Shots - Health News
2:05 am
Thu November 28, 2013

'The Coolest Thing Ever': How A Robotic Arm Changed 4 Lives

Dee Faught tests a robotic arm installed on his wheelchair in September. Commercially produced robotic arms can cost tens of thousands of dollars, but three Rice engineering students built one for Dee for about $800.
Eric Kayne for NPR

Originally published on Tue April 22, 2014 9:00 am

Three engineering undergrads at Rice University gave a teenager with a rare genetic disease something he'd always wished for: the ability to turn off the light in his room.

It may not seem like much, but for 17-year-old Dee Faught, it represents a new kind of independence.

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Shots - Health News
9:48 am
Wed November 6, 2013

How Pictures Of Infant Boy's Eyes Helped Diagnose Cancer

A milky eye can be a sign of early cancer of the retina.
Courtesy of Bryan Shaw

Originally published on Thu November 7, 2013 8:51 pm

Bryan Shaw never expected to write a research paper about a rare eye cancer.

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The Two-Way
12:30 pm
Wed October 9, 2013

Jupiter Or Bust, But First A Quick Fly-By Of Home

NASA's flight path for its Juno space probe, which is expected to buzz Earth at 3:21 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
NASA

After traveling for more than two years and some 1 billion miles, NASA's Juno mission to Jupiter is back where it started. Almost. At 3:21 p.m. ET Wednesday, the Juno space probe will be 347 miles away from Earth, just above the southern tip of Africa.

(As an aside, at around 11:30 a.m. ET, it was more than 90,000 miles away.)

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Shots - Health News
2:03 am
Fri September 13, 2013

Treating Kids' Cancer With Science And A Pocket Full Of Hope

Dr. Jim Olson meets with Carver Faull at Seattle Children's Hospital in August. Carver, now 12, had surgery to remove a brain tumor in 2012.
Matthew Ryan Williams for NPR

Originally published on Tue April 22, 2014 9:02 am

Try to imagine someone who is supremely calm while at the same time bursting with energy, and you've got a pretty good idea of what Jim Olson is like.

He's a cancer researcher, physician, cyclist, kayaker and cook, not always in that order. He approaches each activity with incredible passion.

But to really understand Olson, you have to watch him in action with patients.

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Shots - Health News
2:45 am
Thu September 12, 2013

Why Painting Tumors Could Make Brain Surgeons Better

Physician Jim Olson cares for children with brain cancer in Seattle. His laboratory studies the gene expression programs controlling neural differentiation, brain tumor genesis and neurodegenerative diseases.
Courtesy of Susie Fitzhugh/Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Originally published on Thu September 12, 2013 5:58 am

Perhaps one of the most uncomfortable things a doctor has to tell patients is that their medical problems are iatrogenic. What that means is they were caused by a doctor in the course of the treatment.

Sometime these iatrogenic injuries are accidental. But sometimes, because of the limits of medical technology, they can be inevitable. Now, a medical researcher in Seattle thinks he has a way to eliminate some of the inevitable ones.

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Space
4:11 am
Tue September 10, 2013

NASA's Latest Mission To The Moon Is On Track

Originally published on Tue September 10, 2013 6:08 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

NASA's latest mission to the moon is stuck in orbit around the Earth. And that sounds bad. But as NPR Science Correspondent Joe Palca explains, it's actually normal.

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